Courtesy 171 Cedar Arts Center
Fine dining: award-winning Finger Lakes chef Suzanne Stack will be teaching one of the season’s cooking classes at 171 Cedar Arts Center in Corning.
Sometime back in the early ’90s I was gabbing with a friend of mine and the subject was food—what else? We both had experience giving cooking classes (mine stretched back to the ’70s), and we deplored the lack of professional cooking classes in our area. After all, we had each given classes at our friends’ cooking school up in Pittsford. Our chat coincided with the opening of a kitchen design showroom in Corning—and the appliances in one of their beautiful vignettes were “live.”
We didn’t mind the prep work. Selecting themes such as “A Cozy Dinner for a Winter’s Night”—that sort of thing. Nor did we mind selecting recipes and making shopping lists. And even the shopping for ingredients and schlepping pots and pans. But taking reservations, hauling chairs from a rental company, printing the recipes—well, it was overwhelming.
Would 171 Cedar Arts Center be persuaded to take up the field of culinary arts? We asked for their help and they quickly agreed. And we could even use their large performance space, but what about a kitchen set? Happily, the Corning Rotary came to our rescue and provided funds to requisition three cabinets with butcher-block work surfaces (these needed to roll and fit on the elevators for storage in the basement). We got a rock-bottom price on a new stove from The Corning Building Co., and we were almost in business. Our future was assured when Wegmans agreed to furnish the groceries.
We’ve tried various times to schedule the classes (“learn and lunch,” autumn programs, and even outdoor- cooking programs) but the best times seemed to be in the winter and early spring and on Saturday mornings.
Developing a Home-Grown Faculty
In the beginning days, Pat Dugan and yours truly were the sole instructors. When Pat married and found herself doing more traveling, I turned to some of our local and talented cooks. And this program continues today. Most are chefs and surprisingly all of them have taken to teaching as chipped beef does to a cream sauce. (If I wanted to evoke “gourmet” cooking that won’t do it.) As a person with years and years and years (whoa Neal) I do the introductions and help out with the planning of the classes, the food shopping, recipe editing, and drop the helpful hints of an experienced cook during the class.
We are still at 171 Cedar Arts’s Drake House on the corner of Cedar and First in Corning, and classes start at 11:30 on selected Saturday mornings from February to late April.
We thought that there would be an interest in teaching cooking on a professional level in our area and, boy, were we gratified by the response to our offerings over the years. Classes are demonstrations with plenty of time to “Ask the Chef.” That’s something you can’t do sitting in front of the telly watching food shows. This year’s crop is as diversified as it gets. Have a look see.
Classes for 2015
Chef Garrett Saunders starts off the series on February 7 with a class on Italian cooking. We can accommodate twenty-five students, and, unfortunately for those just hearing about this now, his class filled several weeks ago. Garrett is the gifted chef at the Harbor Hotel in Watkins Glen.
Chef Paul Mach, who is an assistant professor of culinary arts in the School of Business and Hospitality at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, has chosen as the theme of his class on February 21 wine and grains. His focus on the former will be on Finger Lakes wines. During the summer he often gives demos at Hunt Winery in Branchport, so the Hunts will provide the vino; meanwhile he’ll explain the mysteries of the various varieties of rice and the new favorites, quinoa and faro and grano wheat...well, you’ll be able to taste each as he creates his favorite recipes for these very “in” grains.
On February 28 Jamie Fry, the executive chef at the Penn Wells Hotel in Wellsboro, will have a very topical (for winter) subject—stews. And if you thought stews were no more than some meat cubes thrown into a pot with root vegetables—well, Jamie will change your perception. He’ll give you tips and tricks that will make your stews truly company fare. And want to know how to get the most out of your slow cooker? Come hear Jamie. One hint—he often uses the slow cooker to reheat food that may have been made ahead on the range-top or in the oven. You won’t want to miss this—and I can almost smell the aromas as I write this.
Brud Holland who has been our go- to chef for many years, has chosen the subject of braising for his March 7 class. As a run-up to St. Patrick’s Day Brud will feature dishes from the Emerald Isle—a place he has recently visited. Braising involves cooking meats, fish, or vegetables in a minimum amount of liquid (stock, wine, water) to achieve maximum flavor with minimum fuss. This is great winter fare. And there’ll also be a tasting of the condiments—salsas and sauces—that Brud developed for his company Finger Lakes Made. Think local!
Attention fish lovers (or even passive fish people): put March 14 on your calendar, as Blake Swihart, a consultant to the major food companies, returns to 171 with his latest class on fish cookery. His appearance last year was truly sensational and his menu for this one is fabulous. Check this out by going to the 171 Cedar Arts Web site (www.171cedararts.org) and click on “Culinary.” Then go immediately to the phone or check in online as this class is sure to sell out. Something fishy is something wonderful.
Louise Richardson has staked out a place in the pantheon of party planners. Her class on March 28 will help you throw a party minus the jitters. Learn her scheme, and enjoy her top-requested hors d’oeuvre just in time for the spring into summer party season. Serve these delectable morsels as finger food with comestibles or why not sit around a table, passing platters of goodness, and make it an informal dinner? You will learn a lot, taste a lot, and enjoy the party at 171 and, later, in your home.
Saturday April 11 will star Michael Lanahan, the irrepressible chef at Corning’s swanky restaurant The Cellar. He feels the urge to plan delicious vegetarian dishes whether you are a true vegetarian, a part-time vegetarian, or simply have friends or family who are—and you’d like to entertain them with simply marvelous food. Trust Michael to make this class a lively one. And he’s agreed to demonstrate knife skills, so bring your favorite knife and participate! Hurry, this class is dy-no- mite.
Our final class on April 25 is already fully booked. That’s because Suzanne Stack is such a well-known and beloved teacher, having whetted her skills as an assistant at Macy’s De Gustibus cooking school in Manhattan. Suzanne and husband Bob moved to the Finger Lakes from New Jersey several years ago and opened Suzanne’s Fine Regional Cuisine in Lodi in 2003. In subsequent years they have garnered all sorts of awards and accolades and Suzanne was one of twenty semi-finalists (out of 28,000 nominations!) for the James Beard Foundation Best Regional Chef Northeast Award in 2011. And she gathers so many ingredients, in season, right on the restaurant’s property. Need we say more? Go.
Good Cooking is Alive and Well...
...in the Twin Tiers. We are blessed with talented people who are eager to share their knowledge. The 171 Web site will give you all the details—tuition for each class, etc. The classes bring together folks who like to cook and want to hone their skills. Besides, they are fun. I usually have a joke or two to share, but don’t let that discourage you!